Our Kiwi Holiday – Part 4

This final part of our Christmas vacation story is long overdue, in my opinion, now that it is over a month after the actual event. So, I’ll just try to point out the highlights of our remaining days in New Zealand.

As before, the photos of our trip could be found in our Photo Gallery.

It was a long drive back to Auckland but thankfully, we were able to change our hotel booking a few days back. So, instead of taking a rest on a dingy hotel room, we were able to rest with a little more class at the Mercure Hotel. The other great thing about the hotel was that it was near the shops, the Britomart bus terminal and the Viaduct. Basically, near everything in the city centre.

A few days earlier, we were able to make contact with a New Zealand-based blogger whom we got to know a while back when he was just getting started with blogging. Since we were in New Zealand, we asked Ka Uro (of Mga Kuro-Kuro ni Ka Uro blog) if he wanted to meet with us in Auckland. Well, he not only met with us, he even invited us for a delicious lunch at his house and drove us around Auckland.

I think that was the highlight of our trip. It’s really very nice to meet people you knew but have never met in person before in another country. Ka Uro’s family was lovely and the food they’ve prepared for us was great. It was like being home in the Philippines again for that brief moment.

We spent our remaining days in NZ going to the general sights in Auckland. Apart from that, we also booked a tour bus to take us to Karekare beach (where the film “The Piano” was shot).

On our last day in NZ, I was already itching to get back home to Melbourne. With all the driving, walking and hiking we did in land of the Kiwis, I couldn’t wait to just return to Melbourne where we could get some much needed rest.

Our only regret was that we didn’t go to the South island of New Zealand. There’s always next time.

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Published in: on February 4, 2006 at 9:40 am  Comments (5)  

Our Kiwi Holiday – Part 3

Note: The thumbnails below are linked to larger versions of the photos on our Flickr.com account. To see more of our New Zealand photos, click here instead.

We left Rotorua for New Plymouth on Christmas Eve. According to the guide map we had at the time, there would be passing by the attraction known as the Three Sisters which I guessed was similar to the Twelve Apostles rock formation attraction along the Great Ocean Road here in Victoria. I “guessed” because we haven’t actually seen it up close. But we did try.

We followed the signs that led us to where we would allegedly find the Three Sisters. Instead, we found an empty graveled car park by the beach. After a little looking around, we realised that we were expected to walk beside the foot of this cliff by the beach on to the other side to see the rock formation.

So, we walked the rocky and muddy path to the other side then all of a sudden, the tide began to rise. The water and foam was slowly but steadily approaching the cliff where we were walking. We immediately doubled-back to the car. Thankfully, we were only like five minutes away from the car park. Had we been there earlier, we would’ve been at the other side of that stupid cliff when the water rushed back in. There should’ve been another way to see the attraction without having to risk getting trapped. Or maybe there was and we just didn’t know about it. With that we continued our journey to New Plymouth.

We only planned to stay in New Plymouth for three days including the day we arrived and the day we would leave. That left us with just one day, Christmas Day, to actually go see Mount Taranaki and the surrounding areas. So, when the lady at the hotel told us that there was going to be a Festival of Lights event at the nearby Pukekura Park (teehee), we grabbed at the opportunity.

According to the hotel lady, the park would be lit up with colourful lighting at night and that there would also be a celtic band playing. The last bit certainly made me want to go even more. I had hoped the band would play a recorder.

On the way to the event, we realised that we had to walk a long way to get there. Walking distance, indeed! And on the way, we were attacked! Or at least, almost attacked.

A few minutes into the park, we began hearing faint music. It must be the band, I thought. We followed the music because we were essentially lost inside the park by then.

At last we reached a clearing and in the distance was an empty amphitheatre beside a lake. Well, almost empty. There were lots of ducks both in the lake and on the amphitheatre grounds. There was no other way but to go through the amphitheatre grounds where the ducks were. Then, halfway through the amphitheatre grounds, all the ducks turned towards our direction. Those on the lake swam towards us while those on land started walking towards us! It was like they were trying to corner us then pounce on us. Really! We ended up making a run for it.

We made it to the part of the park where the band was actually playing. I was a bit disappointed that there was only one band but it was the first time I’ve ever seen a celtic band perform live so I was still pretty happy about it. So we spent the night listening to the renaissance stylings of the Crehan Celtic Sound band.

We were very tired when we got back to our hotel since we had to walk like the hotel lady recommended. We so regretted not bringing the car. In the room, we got out the sleeping bags we bought earlier because the room was a bit on the seedy side like the hotel we had in Auckland (see Part 1).

We always have some form of Christmas Eve midnight feast (as is tradition in the Philippines) but that year, we didn’t. We were too tired to stay up too late. That and we didn’t really have a lot of stuff to eat. We bought a lot of canned goods and a small bag of buns earlier but we decided to only eat those the next day when all the shops would be close (we found this out earlier that day). So, our Christmas dinner was nothing more than cold canned food with bread for a side-dish. To date, it’s the worst Christmas dinner we had ever had.

We included going to New Plymouth in our itinerary mainly because of Mount Taranaki aka Mount Egmont which, like I wrote before, was featured in the movie Last Samurai. It was unfortunate that we couldn’t go to the actual set for the movie because it being Christmas day, the set was closed. Luckily, you really couldn’t close down a mountain over the holidays so we were still able to drive towards it and look at the sights around it like Dawsons Falls.

After our trip to the mountain, we spent the rest of Christmas day just watching TV which was having a Lord of the Rings marathon while eating our canned Christmas feast.

The next day, we drove back to Auckland where we spent the rest of our Kiwi Holiday. I know I wrote last time that I’d try finishing this series with Part 3 but there is so much more to write. And so, this story will be continued.

Published in: on January 27, 2006 at 12:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Our Kiwi Holiday – Part 2

I had intended to write a more detailed account of our trip but after all the work I’ve been doing lately, I’ll just have to make it brief and simple. Actually, I should’ve aimed for a short retelling regardless.

Note: The thumbnails below are linked to larger versions of the photos on our Flickr.com account. To see more of our New Zealand photos, click here instead.

Now, continuing from the previous installment of this story, the next day turned out to be a much better day. We were able to book another hotel to stay in Auckland when we get back from Rotorua and New Plymouth during the final leg of our trip. Also, we went to the car rental shop where we booked our car and we got a Toyota Corolla hatchback which is almost identical to the car I drive here in Melbourne.

With the car already on hand, we left for Rotorua earlier than originally planned. The plan was that we would drive all the way to Rotorua from Auckland stopping only for toilet breaks. Fortunately for us though, the lady at the rental car shop recommended we take a side route that passed Matamata instead of the main route.

Matamata was worth the detour, too, because it’s the town nearest the farm where they built the Hobbiton set used in the Lord of the Rings movies. Even though all that was left of the set was some of the houses’ understructure, it was great to set foot on the actual Hobbiton hills.

On the drive to Rotorua, we often consulted the free maps we had just to be sure we don’t make any wrong turns. We had to laugh at some of the place names we’ve read though because they sounded awfully like naughty Tagalog pharases. For example: Te Teko sounded like “My Penis” and Pukekohe sounded like “My Vagina, ok?”

Anyway, we managed to stay on course and arrived in Rotorua safely. Our first impression of the place was that it stinked and not because it was a dirty place. Rotorua is surrounded by boiling mud pools and the smell of sulphur often fills the air. So, during our four day stay at Rotorua, we had to endure the smell of rotten eggs every now and then.

Still, it was a pretty, wonderful and peaceful place. I only had to keep telling myself that we were safe and that the whole town wouldn’t just turn into a volcano and blow up.

Since, we watch a lot of the reality TV show The Amazing Race, every road trip and visit to an attraction that seemed like an in-game Detour or Roadblock, made us feel like we were a couple in the show competing against non-existant couples in a race. And because we watch the show, we made it a point to visit the places in New Zealand that were featured in the show like the Zorb or the Waitomo caves (though we didn’t abseil/rappel down). And although the Skyrides luge track wasn’t featured in the show, we thoroughly enjoyed it.

We visited other places around town but I wouldn’t bore you with anymore details. Suffice it to say, we enjoyed the Zorb, the Waitomo Caves visit and the luge rides at the Skyrides track by time we left Rotorua.

After Rotorua, we drove down to New Plymouth to see Mt Taranaki which was supposed to be the “stand-in” for Mount Fuji in the Last Samurai movie starring Tom Cruise. As you can tell, we’ve been concentrating on the sites that were featured either in movies or in TV shows. I’m such a couch potato.

I’ll continue and hopefully conlude this story in the third installment.

Published in: on January 24, 2006 at 8:57 am  Comments (7)  

Our Kiwi Holiday – Part 1

First, a Happy New Year to everybody. I wasn’t in the mood to write about anything after we got back from our New Zealand holiday (very tired to begin with and lots of things to do when we got home). Hence, the infrequent updates from me recently.

So my first post for the year is about our Kiwi holiday. It’s a bit too long to write it down our holiday (mis)adventure in just one posted article so I’ll be telling the story in parts. To see some of the photos we’ve taken of our trip, go to our Photo Gallery.

Now, on with the story.

The first day of our trip didn’t turn out to be very pleasant. We have an early morning flight at about 9 am so we had to wake up really early like at 4 am just to be at the airport at least one hour before our flight. And to be sure there were no delays, I looked up the Train Trip Planner page at the Metlink site the night before so that I’d know what time the trains would be leaving and which stations we’d switch train lines from to get to the Southern Cross station (formerly known as the Spencer Street station) adjacent to the SkyBus (the bus that takes you to the airport) terminal.

At the moment, the Southern Cross station is under construction to make it more beautiful for all the expected tourists in Melbourne during the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Normally, the train from Werribee stops at the Southern Cross station but due to the construction going on, it is currently skipped. According to the Trip Planner page for the day of our departure, there were still some trains that stop at Southern Cross. We should get off at the Newport station and catch another train to Southern Cross from there.

Well, we did just that and were frustrated to discover that the train we boarded didn’t stop at Southern Cross neither. So, it would’ve actually been quicker to have just stayed on the original train as it was an express train (it didn’t stop at all the stations along the line). Fortunately, we still got to the airport an hour before the flight so we had time to check in and relax a bit.

One of our ulterior motives for taking a vacation in New Zealand was so that we can get some stamps on our new Australian Passports. We were hoping that someday, we may be able to take a trip to the US and having proof on our passports that we have traveled a bit would make us less suspicious to customs officials. Unfortunately, we discovered that if you’re an Australia going to New Zealand and back, your passport doesn’t get any stamps at all. They just scanned our passport and that was it. So now, our passports still seemed to be brand new. Great.

Another disappointment was the light lunch we had during the flight. When we landed at the Auckland Airport in New Zealand, we didn’t have time to grab a proper lunch as we were expected at the hotel we booked at a certain time. So we headed straight to the bus terminal after getting through Customs and got on to Auckland’s equivalent of the SkyBus — the AirBus.

The day wasn’t getting any better though. The AirBus we boarded had a busted air conditioner so it was pretty warm and humid inside. It was also really pouring the day. Since the bus had these sticker advertisements that covered the windows that doubled for window tints, the rain water stuck to the open holes of the stickers obscuring the view out of the glass windows. It was as if we were trapped inside a translucent warm humid box for what was supposed to be an hour (the time it takes from the airport to the city). But to make it worse, we were stuck in heavy traffic! And I needed to go to the toilet! It was a miserable afternoon.

After an unpleasant time in the bus, we finally reached our destination. We were so relieved to be able to breathe in fresh air again. Well, it wasn’t really all that fresh (we were in the city after all) but it was a heck of a lot better than the canned air we were breathing inside the bus. I didn’t mind getting wet from the rain. I was just too happy to get off the bus.

My happiness was short lived though. We were greatly disappointed with the room we had at the Columbia Hotel Apartments, the hotel we booked at Accomodation Line. Why? The room didn’t have air-conditioning, the carpet was soiled, the room had a musty smell and there were rubbish in between the tables and bed! It was so crappy that we dreaded lying down on the bed but we didn’t have a choice. We had to spend the night there. It was a consolation that we had to drive to Rotorua the following day and leave the hotel behind.

Unfortunately, we had booked to stay at the same hotel again a few days later when we return to Auckland from Rotorua and New Plymouth. We didn’t want to stay there for more that one night. We decided that we’ll just have to cancel our booking even if we have to pay a cancellation fee. But, since we booked the hotel via Internet, we have to cancel the booking via Internet. That meant we needed to find an Internet cafe first.

After the ride from the airport and settling in the hotel, it was pretty late to have lunch. So we decided to just have a heavy snack in the city which shouldn’t be too far according to the free map we got at the airport. Well, it wasn’t too far but it wasn’t near neither. After walking down the sloping road (which reminded me of San Francisco’s hilly streets), we finally got to Queen Street which was a long street that cuts through Auckland’s CBD.

I was sort of happy to see shops we’re familiar with in Australia like Borders, Oporto, Burger King (called Hungry Jacks in Oz) and Maccas. We were also pleased (in a nostalgic sense) to see that New Zealand has Wendy’s Hamburger and Dunkin’ Donuts both of which are absent in Australia.

We still ended up at a fast food restaurant we were familiar with in Australia – at Oporto. While having our merienda (afternoon snack) there, we realised that New Zealand is kind of like Australia, only different. For example, the Coke bottle labels in Oz are made of some plastic film while in NZ, it’s made of paper. The people speak in an Australian like accent except they seem to swap the E and I long vowel sounds in words. For example, I heard an ad on the radio: “Have you bought the Chrestmas gefts for the keds?”

Afterwards, we walked down the length of Queen Street all the way to the Britomart bus terminal to explore the CBD. We also wanted to know in advance where the Europcar office was located so that come the next morning, we can head there straight away and pick up the rental car we booked. We didn’t want to stay at the hotel longer than we really should.

The walk back to the hotel wasn’t easy though. It was all up hill. By the time we got back to our room, we were all sweaty and hot. It would’ve been nice to have an air conditioned room then.

We went to bed early that night which was pretty unusual for us. Our reasoning was, the earlier we get to sleep, the sooner tomorrow comes. We planned to wake up early and find an open Internet cafe to change our accommodation plans for when we return to Auckland.

That night, I hoped that tomorrow would be a better day. Because at the time, I wasn’t enjoying our vacation at all. Well, there were still ten days left for us to appreciate New Zealand better. I hoped that we could start appreciating it the next day.

To be continued…

Published in: on January 6, 2006 at 4:27 pm  Comments (1)