B-day UFO's - Saturday, November 30, 2002

What a wonderful birthday I had, full of pampering (suprise massage), amazing food, and a good night's rest in a hotel not in STELLA! After a wonderful meal out, we went for a walk along the shore of Lake Taupo (not unlike Lake Tahoe) and were just chatting away when a man stopped us and asked us, "What are those weird lights moving around in the sky?" We had absorbed in coversation, we hadn't noticed the UFO's in the sky!!! OK, maybe they weren't UFO's but everyone walking and driving on the shore that night seemed a bit curious... Hmmm. There were ~ 7 or 8 white lights, not the blinking kind on an aircraft, that seemed to move in random patterns through the skies over Taupo. They left pretty quickly after about 10 minutes. Pretty weird, eh??? We took some pics, but haven't developed the film yet. We aren't expecting much and havne't had an disturbing abduction dreams yet!

 Weird Cars - Friday, November 29, 2002

It is amazing how many weird cars and vans there are in New Zealand. They come in all shapes and sizes. One of our favorites is this common van/car.

 Rotorua - Thursday, November 28, 2002

We are now in Rotorua, a town dubbed "Rota-Vegas" by the locals because it is so touristy. It sits on the edge of a large lake, in the crater of an ancient volcano. The entire area is thermally active, and the smell of sulphur is never far. Yellowstone actually has a lot more geysers than Rotorua, but there are still plenty of hot springs and boiling mud pits.

We went to a traditional Maori hangi and concert tonight. The hangi is a feast in which a variety of meats, vegetables, and dressing are cooked in a covered pit over hot rocks, thus steam cooking the food. The result is very tasty and juicy meal. The Maori people used to cook this way. The evening began with an education about the Maori culture from our bus driver John. The Maori have a VERY strong culture, not unlike Native Americans and Australian Aboriginals. We arrived at the re-creation of an old Maori village and began the tour with the traditional greeting where warriors come out and challenge the guests with a war dance (a haka). After we were invited into the village, we attended a concert and explanation of Maori traditions, and concluded with a traditional hangi feast.

The concert was full of SO MUCH energy with the dancing and singing. The people were full of joy and pride. Most of the performers were adorned with fearsome facial tatoos which we've seen on Maori throughout the country. Maori make up ~ 20% of the NZ population and there is a resurgence in their traditional culture. We met a really cool German couple that we chatted with at dinner and hope to hook up with them when we visit Europe. The bus ride home with John the bus driver was hysterical! The man had one hell of a sense of humor and had the entire bus singing (even Dave) songs from their home countries. "Home, home on the range....". The Israelis sang Hava Negila. What fun! It was certainly a night to remember..

 The Coromandel Peninsula & Our Thanksgiving!!!! -

After a quick stop in Auckland to pickup some gear Jerry sent down to us, we continued down to the Coromandel Penisula. Our route took us up the West Coast for a beautiful drive to the township of Coromandel. Here we cooked our Thanksgiving dinner a few days to early by mistake. My dad and M's Mom have birthdays on the 25th of November (Happy B-day Jerry & Linda!!!), and a few years ago Thanksgiving fell on the same day. I guess since we really aren't using much of a calendar we just completely relied on past experiences instead of looking up which day the official T-Day was. DUH!!!!! We celebrated Monday (US time) instead of Thursday....Idiots!

Despite using a stove/oven that only worked on HIGH, we had a great dinner. The turkey was good, the stuffing sucked, and and the mashed sweet potatoes (called kumara in NZ) were interesting. In any event, we hope everyone back home had a great Turkey Day!!

We visited the Driving Creek Railway & Pottery the following day. Our friends Mac & Maureen apprenticed there back in the mid 70s. This place has become a big tourist attraction for the area because the eccentric owner regenerated over 10,000 new native trees (mostly Kauri) destroyed by early British logging operations. The railway through the forest to the top of the mountain was finished this year after 25 years of work. An Australian film crew was filming the completion of the railway for a TV documentary. Guess who rode the train smack dab in front of the cameras?? Yes...us. We were both having a bad hair day unfortunately and Dave was disappointed to not have been asked for a starring role in the film.. Pics to come.

We left Coramandel and drove to the west coast of the peninsula for a stop at a beach famous for its hot water beach. People come from all over at low tide to dig their own hot pool. Basically you dig a hole in the sand on the beach as close to a hot spot as you can (the steam gives the good spots away) and the hole fills with thermal waters. Dave did a great job digging our perfect little hot pool. It was SO hot that some folks were hardboiling eggs!! A whole slew of roudy German tourists started a mud fight which involved most of the surrounding tourists. FUN! We had a great time relaxing and hanging out with the other tourists. Our camping facility also had free thermal pools. We've had more than our fair share of these relaxing pools throughout our trip this month..

 One day of Good weather is better than none! - Friday, November 22, 2002

So, it got pretty mucky out and we decided to leave the Bay of Islands and forgo the "must do" activities. We made a pit stop (literally) in a small town called Kawawa to see their only tourist attraction on our way south towards Auckland. We are really loving the many thermal waterparks all over NZ and decided to stop for the night in a town that had one. VERY RELAXING!!!! Well sort of... a million unruly kids were running around and all the teenagers were trying to hook up!

We'll take the next two weeks to tour the south part of the north island. So much territory to cover...so little time! We'll then take the ferry over to the South Island at the end of the 1st week in December. The ride is supposed to be spectacular..

Hopefully we'll find a store that sells turkey so we can celebrate Thanksgiving on Tuesday!

 Finally - Good weather! - Thursday, November 21, 2002

The day we left Kaitaia, the weather improved considerably as we made our wy east toward the Bay of Islands (Kiwi version of the Bahamas). On the way, we stopped at the Monganui Fish Company to sample the shop's infamous Fish and Chips (Bluenose fish). It was some of the best we've ever had!

We found yet another great holiday park and settled in to our site on the shore of a river overlooking Hururu Falls. We microwaved some popcorn and hung out at the lounge/bar for a few hours. After completed a much needed load of laundry in Paihia-the gateway to the Bay of Islands-we took a car ferry to a small town across the bay. Again we lucked out and found a fab camp spot overlooking the harbor and watch a spectacular sunset. We spent most of the afternoon soaking in some of the 1st rays of shunshine we've seen in NZ while becoming completely absorbed in our new books. This has been the most relaxing day thus far. If the weather is agreeable, we'll do one of the "must do" activities while up here--fish, swim with dolphins or go sailing.

 Mac's House - Wednesday, November 20, 2002

We ended up staying at Mac's house for a few days and very much enjoyed being off the road. Mac (from San Fran) & his wife Maureen (Kiwi) are both potters who have lived in Kaitaia for over 20 years in and origianl farm house with Kauri wood floors and amazing garden with fresh fruit and veggies. They operate a small pottery business from their home. We had no idea what to expect and were so happy to thoroughly enjoy chatting it up with this adventerous couple. Ten years ago Mac & Maureen took a year off and traveled around Europe in a VW camper van... See why we like them!

We found the homebaked meals (mostly from the garden) and their beautiful home a welcome respite to 6 days of van travel...

 Kauri Forest - Tuesday, November 19, 2002

*On our way to the infamous Kauri Forest on NZ's NW coast, we were awarded a picturesque drive through rich, green, hilly farmland loaded with cows, horsies, sheep, and even a few deer. The rain from the past 2 weeks made the land come alive! The Kauri tree (wood for sail masts and gum for turpentine) was NZ's earliest and most important export in the late 1800's. We checked out some 2000+year old trees and 4000+ year old stumps. HUGE!!! The pics won't do them justice!

*Passed through Hokianga Harbor, an absolutely pristine harbor on the west coast. We took a small car ferry across the bay to meet up with our new friend Mac who we met while hanging out in Cape Tribulation in NE Australia. Mac is in his 60's and was taking a break from life in NZ for a few weeks to tour Queensland.

 Why Stay in Campervan/Holiday Parks vs. Hotel or Hostel? - Sunday, November 17, 2002

*Most Campervan parks/Holiday Parks also have motel, cabin, and dorm facilities, so we get the benefit of good location, sometimes a pool, internet, lounge room and kitchen.
*Why pay 2X as much when we have a queen size, very comfy bed and now have the room in our budget to enjoy modest meal out a few times a week!
*When we stay in a hostel, we have to share a bathroom... the bathrooms in the camperparks have been much newer and cleaner thus far.
*More apt to meet Kiwis on holiday at camperparks than hostels. :)

And finally, all of the campervan parks we've stayed at have GORGEOUS VIEWS!

 Driving North - Friday, November 15, 2002

*We drove up the western coast of the North Island to the far north coast. NZ has have an unseasonably cold spring. It should feel like May does in the States, but it's been more like March. So, we decided to drive north to catch more of the subtropical/warm weather.
*We spent our 1st night at cool hostel that gained us in entry to a waterpark. It was weird to put on a bathing suit when it was 50 degrees outside. Thankfully the waterpark water was all supplied by thermal pools @ ~ 90 degrees. Ah!!!!

*We hit a 2nd hand book store on our way out of town and spent half the day there and bought too many books for our little van.

 STELLA!!!!!!!!!!! - Thursday, November 14, 2002

Well we've named our van Stella the Seafoam Green Starwagon. The owners of the 1st caravan park we visited suggested we choose a girl's name since they've found that most boy-named cars often break down! Good advice...keep the luck going a bit longer! After buying a cooker, pots, pans, a duvet, and a few other nick nacks, we're ready to roll! We found some pretty sweet tapes at all the 2nd hand stores we visited to outfit Stella; but unfortunately, we found the tape deck is broken. Our visions of driving around NZ listening to Barry White and Kenny Rogers just will not be realized---damn shame..

We spent the last few days in the 2nd largest town on the north island called Whangerei (~65K people) and are now making our way up to the Bay of Islands. Hopefully the weather will be nice enough to go sailing. More later..

 We Could Do No Wrong Today.... - Friday, November 08, 2002

...well actually the good luck started late yesterday. We spent several hours giving the still unnamed Starwagon a thorough swamping out. It turns out that the owner must have used this van to cart around dirt. Since the initial vacuuming of the lovely brown carpet didn't seem to make a dent in the amount of dirt (dust) floating around the van, Dave made the executive decision to remove the carpet. Geepers, guess what we found? A virtual sanbox underneath the old carpet--GROSS!!!! After vacuuming and sweeping the Starwagon out, we decided that it probably deserved some basic seatcovers to go over the fabulous brown/stained fabric front seats.

While driving around looking for an auto parts store the luck started to kick in. After a few minutes we came upon "Ultimate Seat Covers"! A whole store dedicated to seat covers for cars, trucks, and boats (they also build/repair/upholster furniture). We went in with the intention of purchasing the cheapest covers we could find for the Mitsubishi. Ron, one of the owners, gave us some old sample Sheepskin seat covers. They don't fit perfectly, but who cares, right? He did spend a fair bit of time helping us get the set that fit the best. Also, he gave us a few other sample covers, including a lovely leopard print, for which we could make pillows.

After that he was inquiring about what we would do for a bed in the back of the van. So after tossing around some of the ideas that Dave came up with, Ron offered his tools and extra scrap wood for our use to build the mattress platform. So on Saturday mid-day we visted Ron, Barnard and Gavin at the shop. Instead of watching Dave build the platform, the guys decided that they would take Dave's idea and go to town. So an hour later, the custom built, very sturdy platform was ready and fit to perfection.

Back to Friday... After we visited the Seatcover folks, we moseyed over to a fabric store and purchased some cheap fabric that matched the gorgeous, grey seatcovers in order to make some privacy curtains for the van. We didn't exactly have a plan on how we were going to install the curtains since we don't have any tools, etc with us. Our favorite Kiwi's came to the rescue! Since the Seatcover shop also deals with furniture, they took charge of turning the fabric into curtains and helping install them in the van.

HELLO, can you say HOSPITALITY!!???? These folks were awesome. We really enjoyed chatting with them about their lives, the world, and especially NZ. We will for sure stop by for some coffee on our way back thru Auckland in a couple of weeks to say "hi". Also, we may hook up with Barnard and his family on the South Island. Fun!!

After taking Ron to lunch, we drove around town to try to finish outfitting the van and LUCKILY found a few more things....
...a queen size futon mattress for $25USD and an extra piece of carpet to replace the ugly brown stuff (free, free, free).

What a day. The van looks SO MUCH BETTER!!!! More later!!

 And The Winner Is.... - Thursday, November 07, 2002

A stylish, seafoam green STARWAGON is our new (very used van). Yes, it's too good to be true...we found a seafoam green car. What are the chances of finding such a lovely colored car?? The market, particularly at this time of year, is very cutthroat as sellers may have 3-6 people vying for their wheels at the same time! Easy to sell. A few weeks from now, there will be even fewer sellers and tons more buyers, so we came at a good time. Who knows, we may put some work into sprucing up our new van and sell it for a profit!

After a few days of canvassing all the backpacker hostels in downtown Auckland, scouring the local classified ads, and continuously checking out the NZ version of E-bay, we bought a 1985 Mitsubishi Starwagon from a very weird man. It is a 5 speed (on the steering wheel column-like the old American cars), has a sunroof, stereo that actually works, good tires, and came with dusty brown carpeting throughout. After a good clean up tomorrow, we'll spend the rest of the day outfitting our new Seafoam green van, which of course we will find an appropriate name for like all the other vans on the market here. All used vehicles must be sold with a current Warrant Of Fitness (WOF). This basically a roadworthy/safety inspection that is required for ALL NZ cars semi-annually. Ours passed with flying colors. Though we saw several nicer vans (most came completely outfitted for car camping), this car seemed to be in the best shape mechanically. Cross your fingers...we are!!

What our seafoam green chariot still needs:
-TLC (Windex & lots of elbow grease)
-Cooking equipment (some stuff came with it, just need a few more things)
-Mattress, pillow, and sheets/blanket
-Eskie (Kiwi for Igloo cooler)
-Curtains for a little privacy

It turns out, that the price range for vans is actually $2500-over $5000. We purchased our van below the normal price range b/c he was a private party and not another backpacker. This is a good thing b/c the car is most likely better taken care of. We'll see. What we do have is time and no huge goals for the next couple of days, so no worries about getting our car up to snuff. It should be fun looking for a new discount mattress (~$50 here), pre-made curtains (they have lovely cow & tiger patters available), and actually doing some work (cleaning) since we don't have much going on until we leave Auckland.

Though Auckland is a beautiful city on the water, much like Vancouver, we are anxious to get out in the country and start hiking. We received our first round of travel shots today (Typhoid, Cholera, Hep A & B, etc..) and were shocked by how much it cost, but is still considerably cheaper than the US. AND....we're only half-way through our round of treatment!!! We were also given a sample of anti-Malaria medication that is known to give ~10% of users hallucinations and bad dreams. She told us to test it out to see if we were in the lucky 10%. This drug is considerably cheaper than another drug which has no known side-effects and has an easier dosage.

I hope we don't have bad dreams.....

 Kia Ora from New Zealand - Sunday, November 03, 2002

That's Maori for Hello!

We finally made it to NZ around 2AM on Monday morning. After sleeping late we decided to relax for the rest of the day. We did get a cell phone and have a local number here in NZ (see below) - feel free to give us a call. Here is quick tutorial on how to convert the time:

PHONE NUMBER: 011(64)210369788

PST is 15hrs (CST is 17hrs) and a day behind NZ. For Example:

CST=9pm Sunday or noon Monday
PST=7pm Sunday or 10am Monday
NZ =4pm Monday or 7am Tuesday

We will also be spending the next couple of days looking for a car and scheduling some of the amazing treks here in NZ. Hopefully on our next post we will be able to show you a photo of our car. It's pretty amazing that cars are available to either rent or buy for so cheap down here. We can rent a car for around $20NZ (about $9.80US!!) or we can buy a car for about $1000 - $2500NZ ($490-$1224US!!) and then sell it for roughly the same price in 3 mos. to another traveller. Even better when you find a very desparate person who is just willing get rid of the car since they need the money to leave the country. This is a very easy and great way to get a good price on transport. It's much better than taking one of the buses filled with 22 year old UK & German kids on their year off.

More later this week......

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