New Zealand (Part 7)
So good flight to Auckland. Picked up the rental car (STAY LEFT!) and made our way to the AirBnB. The best thing can be said is that the flat is in a good location just on the outskirts of the CBD. But in reality it's a little bit sad. Still. Two bedrooms! So there's that. After we settled in, we had dinner and then headed to bed. We had a long day ahead of us.
So the original plan was to get up at the crack of dawn to head to the Waitomo Glow Worm caves to go black water rafting. But SB, put the kibbosh on that adventure. Which was fine. It was going to make for a crazy long day. So we had a leisurely get up and then headed south of Auckland around 930ish.
If the South Island was all about the rugged natural beauty with the fiords, the beech forests, the cascading waterfalls, then the North Island is all about the bucolic beauty of rolling hills and pretty farms. And of course you can't get more a more natural and idyllic setting that Hobbiton. About two plus hours south of Auckland is where they filmed the Shire portions of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies. And when they rebuilt the sets for the second set of movies, they built them using permanent materials so it could become a tourist destination. And it is. And still, even though we were carted around in a tour bus and our gaggle was probably 50 people, it was still kind of magical. Our guide, an American, was very knowledgeable and shared some really interesting back stories about the films, challenges with the shoots, some of the cinematography aspects, etc. I was afraid that I would lose SB while I geeked out, but she seemed to enjoy it. And of course we got some good pics. The tour is 2 hours long and it ends at the Green Dragon Inn where you can have a drink. So that was pretty nice.
After lunch at the Shire's Rest, we headed off to the Wairere Falls because apparently we can't go a day in NZ without going on a hike. They really weren't that far from Hobbiton and I wasn't exactly rushing to get into the car again to drive back to Auckland. But wow, that was not a fun hike. Practically uphill the whole way and over rocks and creeks, through mud, you name it. By the time we got to the first viewing platform I was exhausted and we had only been climbing for 45 minutes. But the falls were spectacular and they are the third largest falls in NZ just over 150 meters high. We both decided against the second viewing platform which was another 45 minutes up. Pass. Hard pass. So back to Auckland we went where we got back, parked the car (which is a bit of a haze) and then headed down the hill to dinner. Auckland's geography is very much like San Francisco's. Lots of hills. But after a couple of glasses of wine, it's all good.
The next day we got up and headed down the ferry terminal to take a boat over to Waiheke Island. This is a pretty decent size island just off of Auckland that has like a dozen little wineries on it. Our first thought was to rent bikes (so glad we DIDN"T do that!), but instead we did the hop on and hop off bus. Normally we both avoid those types of tours, but the island is kind of big so it was a good way to get around. After stopping in the first little town on the island to walk around, we headed to our first winery. Te Motu. The bus drops you off and it's about a 10 minute walk to the winery passing varies vineyards with the vines heavy with grapes. It's late summer here so they should be harvesting soon. All of the vines have netting over them to help protect them from the birds we think. We share a tasting and it's all reds so not really my thing. But some were good. Afterwards, our host pointed us toward the Vineyard Walking Trail which connects some of the various vineyards in the area. Again with the hiking, right? And while it was not far, it was definitely up the hill and down again and up again. But totally worth it when we reached Casita Miro. We did a tasting there and then had a fantastic lunch sitting next to the window overlooking the Onetangi Bay. BTW, the weather was just amazing. Sunny, bright, and warm, but not too hot. For lunch we started with kalamata olives, then moved on to goat cheese coquettes with honey and almonds, and then we shared the braised ox cheek. Seriously delicious! And a glass of wine of course!
After lunch, we headed down to Onetangi Beach. Just amazing. A big wide open beach. Hardly anyone was there. The water was shimmering under the sun. The sand was soft and warm, but not too hot. I changed into my bathing suit and made my way into the water. It was perfect. Cool, but not cold, and it felt amazing under the bright sun. Just the perfect afternoon. I left Sarah Beth on the beach just relaxing (which she needs to do more of) while I swimming in the water. Afterwards, I joined her on the beach and just laid down under the sun and quickly dozed off a bit. The temperature was perfect. There was a light wind. I mean, it was just an amazing afternoon. We finally decided that we needed to get up and head back. So we made our way back to the bus stop and then stopped in town for a quick gelato before we walked back to the ferry terminal and our boat back to Auckland. Definitely recommend Waiheke to anyone who comes to Auckland. It's just magical!
Tomorrow it's an early wake up and my flight to Fiji leaves at 0930 and SB's flight back to the states leaves 1430. We've had a great time together and didn't have any problems getting along at all. I'm so glad she could join me on this part of my adventure!
I do think NZ is the prettiest country I've ever been visited. When we were hiking we would stop and say, gorgeous. So pretty. Amazing. It was almost like a cliche. But it was really true. And while the North Island has a different climate and geography, it's also amazingly pretty as well. I need to come back here again!