March 10, 2003

Admirals Club

An unexpected perk today... I scored access to the Admirals clubs.

Anyway, I figure this is a good omen.

The one at RDU is not very exciting (still better than nothing)... the AC at
DFW was really nice (I could see joining if I travelled more often thru a hub with a
nice AC)

I of course had my usual stop at the metal detectors (one guy admitted to me
that they'll just pull you if they want to... I seem to just have that luck).

Posted by Mike at 003.10:44 AM

March 12, 2003

1st class WOW

WOW does not begin to describe the seats we got from LAX->AKL. They were
full 1st class seats being sold as business class (we used miles to get B-class).

Qantas is in process of reconfig'ing the plane and taking them out (but using them
until they do). It was like your own lazy-boy WITH ottoman.

All angled diagonally, so no one directly in front, no one on the side to climb
over to get out... your own video screen... full automatic controls that make
the "craft-matic" bed commercials look just boring.

So on the 13-hr flight, I got 6-7 hours of decent (but not great) sleep.

Posted by Mike at 005.12:38 AM


Note: The time-stamps on the entries might be set for the East Coast US,
not NZ, so if the times don't fully make sense, that's why.

We got off the plane, and grabbed the "Air" bus shuttle into town and
dropped our bags at the hostel. They helped us book the 10.20a
"Bridge Climb" ($125NZ). It was a ~2 hr "walk" along constructed
walkways on the bridge. Great views, but they didn't let you bring your
cameras (conspiracy theory so they could sell you photos of yourself).
Perhaps a bit overdone, but fun none-the-less. A gorgeous day (70F/sunny).

Next it was off to "Kelly Tarltons Underwater Adventure"... took the bus
fom Commerce St (took some figuring out), and got there easily enough.
$25NZ for entry... spent maybe an hour there. Some cool penguins, and
sharks... but prob better for a family with kids.

Caught the bus back in to town and went to the Sky Tower... feet were aching
by this point, and I thought I had reached that embarrasing point where you
knew that it was you that was the smell... :-) (40+ hrs since last shower).

Anyway, definitely do the extra $3 for the Sky Deck.

Superb views. Also got to see several people do the jump off the edge (not quite bungie but similar). We got to see that "priceless" moment on one guys face,
and he was grinning and smiling at his buds.. and then the cable released for
his drop.... instant face change ;-) Got some great pics (I hope) with such a
nice day.

Back to the hostel to grab a shower (ahhhhhh), and then to here. Next we're
off to find some grub for dinner. Catching a bus by 8am back to the airport
in the morning, and fly to Queenstown.

Posted by Mike at 006.12:44 AM

March 13, 2003


Hmm, since last time... went out to eat at "Tony's" steakhouse in Auckland.
Good enough meal. Back to the hostel and crashed hard.

Based on word of mouth, I think the "City" hostel might be a better deal than the
'International" as it has a built in cafe serving bkfst.

Woke up this AM and grabbed bkfst around the corner from the hostel at Peter's
Cafe. Had my first "pie" from NZ (think Shepherd's Pie). It hit the spot.

The off to catch our return ride to the airport on the "Air Bus". This was a snafu,
as we just missed the 7:40 bus, and at 8:30, we still had not seen the 8:00 or
the 8:20 bus, so we hailed a cab... and pulled off just as the Air Bus pulled up.
So minus 20 points for Air bus. Plus 20 points for Michael, our cabbie.

Caught our AirNZ flight to Queenstown on a 737, that the pilot drove like it
was a BMW roadster... halfway down the south island, he came on the
microphone with a running commentary on the sights. And wow they
were impressive. What was even better was that he would bank the airplane
(dip the wings) back and forth to help everyone see! LOL, like I said, he
drove it like a sports car. (50 points for the pilot)

I have never gotten off of a plane to a better view. The mtns are called
"The Remarkables" for a darned good reason! WOW. Took the "Super
Shuttle" into town and got dropped at our hotel (Thomas hotel, right on
the waterfront). Godo enough little room.. good windows, TV (will use for
weeding thru pics from digital camera). They booked us on the 2pm
jet-boat ride and so we walked the town until 2pm, and stopped to make
dinner reservations (the Boardwalk).

The jet-boat ride ($65?) was tons of fun. I shot tons of pics and movies (have
to check and see how they came out later tonite). Best thing we'd done
yet. After that we came back and took the Skyline Gondola up and
did the luge (5 ride combo pass $29). The luge was a ton of fun too.
Think long concrete drainage ditches.. with a little plastic go-cart type of thing.
Much fun.

After that we went to observe the bungee jump ($155).. and after much
consternation John talked himself into taking the big plunge (literally). I think
he was still shaking 30 minutes later :-) We watched one poor girl that took
6-8 attempts before she finally failed to stop herself from jumping (as it can
best be described).

Back to town for dinner at the "Boardwalk".. nice restaurant, waterfront
a few blocks down from our hotel. Both had really good meals.

Stopped to fill in some details here, and then back off to see what QT offers
for nightlife (tho I am fading fast) (8.30p here).

Tomorrow(Fri) we pick up the bus to Milford Sound (8 am) and will return
Sat mid-day. As we did most of what we wanted in QT already, we're trying
to figure out what to do on Sat. Are trying to find out some details on

Had another gorgeous day today (70F and sunny). (knock wood).

Posted by Mike at 007.02:38 AM

March 15, 2003

Milford.. great stuff

Fri morning we boarded the bus at 8a bound for Milford, via several intermedidate
stops. Many "scenic" stops along the way with commentary, but wow, it was a
long ride (arriving at 4.30p).

We boarded the Milford Wanderer and had a nice cabin, on the main deck
level. Took some pics on the way out, then changed so I could go kayaking
before dinner. Kayaking was fun, then back for a really good dinner.

Everyone sing together "its a small world after all"... met Adrian Robinson from
of all places Raleigh, NC. Also ate with a newly-wed Brit/Kiwi couple, Glen and
Yvonne. All were a lot of fun. After a good dinner, we went to the Underwater
Observatory... mostly a waste of time (and $$). Back to the boat for a wonderful
star show.

Off to sleep and up early for the main cruise out to the Tasman Sea.

Posted by Mike at 008.12:26 AM

More Milford

So up early for another great weather day, and great views on Milford.
We had bkfst, and they pull anchor and headed towards the open ocean
end of the Sound. Got a lot of great pics.. was cold and breezy, but
very nice. Back to port, and we caught a flight back to QT.

The flight offered a lot of great views, and also a nice short way back
(vs. 4 hrs on the bus).

We grabbed a bite of lunch at Livingston's Cafe... really good food, then
took off for the Skipper's Canyon 4WD adventure. ($85NZ). This took us down
some really harrowing one-lane mountain-side (no guard-rail) roads, to
where a lot of the NZ gold rush happened. All in all enjoyable, but
nothing that just _needs_ to be done when visiting QT. (we thought some
driving of the 4WD might be involved, but no)

Came back, burned off camera pics to CD (almost 200 pics already) and went
for dinner at "Fish Bone". The food was really good (the place was packed).

Clocks change here tonite (get an extra hour of sleep.. woohoo!), so I think
we're now another time-zone off of the US (effectively)?!?!?

Picking up our car tomorrow, and head north to Wanaka, then over to
Franz-Joseph. We're expecting internet access to get a bit harder to find,
so mey get tougher to make regular updates.

Posted by Mike at 009.03:15 AM

March 16, 2003


We picked up our Ford Mondeo(?) at 8.30a and headed north. Luckily a new road (89)
had been paved(sealed), so we made Wanaka (wanna-ka) in around an hour (instead of 2).
Lake Wanaka is just beautiful. Clear blue waters, mountains as a backdrop. Hollywood
doesn't make it better than that!

With the extra time, we decided to stroll the scenic little downtown and then head to
the "Puzzling World".

Gil Graybill would think he had died and gone to heaven at this place. Tons of puzzles
to do in the cafe, and then lots of illusions, and "fuhouse" types of rooms. Then of course
you have the human-size maze. All this for $9. The entertainment bargain of the trip so
far. (maze took me 30 minutes.. John was out long ahead of me).

So then we headed up to Franz-Joseph. What great views from Wanaka up to Haast.
We stopped past Haast and dipped toes (brrrrrrrr cold) in the Tasman Sea.

Again making much better time than expected, we stopped to see Fox Glacier (hiked up from
the car park) and Lake Matheson.

Both were disappointments in my eye... you couldn't get close to the ice on Fox for
safety reasons, and clouds blocked the "famous" panoramic views at LM (for my
money I couldn't see how Lake Wanaka could be topped).

Back on Hwy 6 to Franz-Joseph. Not a big town, and we found our hotel easily
(Terrace Motel). A nice little place. Clean, nice rooms, and nice proprietor.
Thankfully we had booked ahead, as the town sells almost every room for almost 10 months
of the year (according to the owner)

The room came with menus for several local places, so we looked those over and headed to
"Beeches". I had the venison, John had the Sole. We both thought they were great. (my favorite main dish of the trip)

Stopped by the heli-hike place to confirm for tomorow, and we are all set. Depending on
when we get done (1pm hopefully) we may make the push to Hanmer (5-6 hrs). If not,
we will do the full day hike here (if the helicopters can't fly).

Oh, and score yet another perfect weather day (we did see 5 minutes of rain on the drive).

Posted by Mike at 010.02:46 AM

March 17, 2003

Heli-hike, Hamner Springs

Best half-day activity yet. We checked in and got our glacier boots (spikes
on bottom) at 9:15a. Got in the chopper at 10, and flew over the glacier
for a good view, then set down. We put on the boots (spikes not allowed
in chopper) and selected ourselves an ice-axe, while waiting for the
2nd load of people to be brought up.

It was us, 2 germans ladies, 3 Irish lasses (celebrating St Patty's Day),
and a Japanese couple.

We made a lot of false starts on our 2-hour hike as we kept running into
fissures that we could not cross. I'm amazed they don't lose someone
here every month... long deep bye-bye-thanks-for-coming types of
crevasses down into the depths of the ice, and you are really walking only
inches away sometimes.

Anyway, we eventually got going and had a very fun hike around, learning
to use/trust the spiked boots for our footholds (we were on the glacier ice)
for about 2 hours. Got to see a few collapses happen further up the glacier.
Impressive to see a 10-story building size worth of ice splinter and flow like
water. Flying over everything seemed small in scale, but once you landed and
saw ant-size people across the way, we realized how big it all eally was.

The most challenging part was probably the parts were we had to slide down
into some small crevasses, you worried that you would be pinned, but of
course you were not (tho I could not swivel side to side). A few of the people
refused (despite the guides insistent instruction) and really were putting
themselves in a much worse place at the end of the crevasse.

Back to the chopper ride out, and we hit the road, deciding to push all the
way to Hanmer Springs a day early.

Made good time (~5.5 hrs), and pulled in around 6:30, to a room at
the "Drifter's Inn/House next door".

The hot springs closed at 9p, so we pulled out our suits and headed over for
a soak ($10 entry). Think several massive hot-tubs. Some were chlorinated
hot water, others were straight (?) from the sulfur (stinky) springs. The sulfur
ones were 41C (someone do the math), the others cooler at ~38. Nice enough,
but just like being on the beach, after about an hour, it was time for something
else. (just not my thing)

The cafe there was open late (reported to be one of few places that would be),
so we ate there. Our least impressive meal of the trip, but hey, it was food.
Upon leaving town I saw another list of restaurants which might have been open
at that hour, so I think there is better food to be had for sure.

Other than the fact that Hamner was on our way and a logical place to
spend the night, I'd vote to skip it (20/20 hindsight). Crossing over Arthurs
Pass, and crashing the night in Chirstchurch would be my vote on a return trip.

Settled in for a lazy night (no rush in the AM), so slept "in" til 7:30, and did
the buffet (yum) bkfst and hit the road for Kaikoura. Made the trip in ~ 2hrs
of easy driving.

Posted by Mike at 011.08:28 PM

March 18, 2003


We pulled into town and looked for accomodations. Found a charming place
called Adelphi. Right downtown near everything, cool decor, music playing,
what more could you ask for? It was a hostel/backpackers place, but had
a ton of character which made up for the normal shortcomings of such a place.

Having nothing planned for the afternoon (dolphin swim is tomorrow AM), we
walked to the visitors center. On a whim we signed up for surfing lessons
for tomorrow afternoon. Hey, why not??!?!

Planning to take a winery tour this afternoon, and visit some caves. Maybe
do some laundry. Tomorrow is dolphins, surfing, and will stay here again
tomorrow night, heading for Blenheim early on Thurs morning.

Off to try some wines and see some caves.

Oh, day 7(?) with nothing but blue skies and nice temps. Loving it!

Posted by Mike at 012.12:54 AM


Wed morning we were up and out for an 8.30a swim with the dolphins off
of Kaikoura. The seas were FLAT and the dolphins visible from shore.. so
only a 5 minute boat ride out.

Estimates from one of the sight-seeing helicopters overhead were that
the dolphin pod numbered almost 1000, and we did three swims of 10-15
minutes each.

Dolphins everywhere, swimming around, circling, swimming under you
and jumping off to the sides. Took lots and lots of picture.. will spend
tonite seeing if I got more than noses and tails... also shot some movies
with the underwater camera housing.

The water was around 60F, and we had on 5mm 1-piece wetsuits (I think).
Really glad I brought my scuba booties, as they did not provide anything for
the feet. (warm feet == warmer person)

Just amazing how many dolphins were around and how close they came to you
(reach out and touch almost). Bright sunny day, and warm once we got back up
on deck (some ppl got quite chilled in the water).

Got back ~ 11:30. Only thing I can imagine better would be that the noon trip
would have more direct sun-down light for further underwater viz (we had ~ 20ft).

Great worthwhile trip ($95NZ)

Posted by Mike at 013.11:46 PM

Hanging-10... or maybe 1.5

Back from swimming with the dolphins, we grabbed some lunch and met up
with Dave our surfing instructor at the visitors center.

We loaded in his van and headed ~ 20 minutes north of Kaikoura to a beach
that had some sand, and a large area in the water without rocks.

We went over some stuff on shore, and headed in to see what we could do.
The water here was warmer (mid-60s), and with a little paddling, we were
plenty warm in our 4/3 westuits.

We spent almost 1.5 hours in the water, and both managed to barely get up
on the boards, for ~5 seconds maybe, but John was more stable than I was.
My feet were still moving around, and I was constantly too far back on the board
causing the tail to dip and the front to rise up. Easy to rationalize the problem
out, but hard to put the solution into practice as you are riding the wave
in and trying to stand up :-) Being 3 hours in the water for the day didn't
help either, I started getting leg cramps near the end. (Am I too old to start

Lots of fun tho. Definitely worth it ($65NZ). Not sure I would have ever tried
this at home. Will see if we can rent boards up in the Bay of Islands Fri/Sat
and try it there. Dave says he taught us what he could, so now its just a
matter of practicing until we can stand up and catch the straight-on waves.
Then it would be time for lesson #2.

Came back and cleaned up. Will do some dinner. In the morning we head
for Blenheim, and an all-day wine-tour.

Staying at the Adelphi again tonite. Very cool place with nice patrons, and a lot
of character/charm. Very well located too.

Posted by Mike at 014.11:56 PM

March 19, 2003

Au revoir Kaikoura

Had dinner at the "Olive Branch"... yummy something-encrusted salmon.

Similar to Cary, the sidewalks roll up at 7pm here (kidding.. about Cary).
2-3 bars are open, and thankfully the "dairy" is still open (think of a 7-eleven),
so we were able to get our daily ice-cream.

We're missing out on this in the US... every European country and NZ
has a "Tip-top" ice-cream sign hanging out of every 5th store. I tried
"Chocolate Eclair" tonite....pretty yummy.

Posted by Mike at 015.02:55 AM

One lane WHAT?!?!

(broke this out to make things less cluttered)

Ok, we've come across a lot of "one-lane" bridges... they post a sign
telling which direction has right-of-way... for the low volumes of traffic
this makes a lot of sense, and certainly is something "new" for us, and
thus, hey its fun.

BUT we found this taken to a new level on this trip... not only was it a one-lane
bridge for both directions of was also a railway tressle.... of course the
train did not have to "give way" (LOL). So not only did you have oncoming traffic
to worry about, but had to check all directions for an incoming train :-) Of
course we took pictures..... (of the bridge and the sign showing a bike-rider
pitching arse over tea-kettle to warn bikers of the fact that rail tracks ran down
the bridge/road/tressle/etc).

Posted by Mike at 016.02:59 AM

March 20, 2003

Blenheim and wine

We grabbed bkfst at the same cafe as yesterday (Aromas). I got
an cheese/onion omelet.. which masqueraded almost as a puffy quiche
with a LOT of onion.... really good cheese in it.

Made an easy 1.5 hr trip up to Blenheim and our B&B, and got picked up by our
wine tour bus (Sounds Connection). Blenheim is much larger than
Kaikoura but not nearly as touristy (hard to find internet cafe)

It was 7 of us total, and we covered 6 different wineries. Most focused on
Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc... not really my favorites. John was
much more a fan and I think enjoyed some of those more. But it was a fun
day.. 6 wineries... 5-6 wines at each, made for one dead palate (they could
have fed us prune juice by the end and we'd not have known).

Back to the B&B to re-pack suitcases and make everything ready for flying
tomorrow. Also watched some of the news about us going to war.

We head up to the Bay of Islands. Hoping to be silly lazy on the beach, and
maybe try some more surfing and/or some hang-gliding.

Yet another wonderful weather day, nary a cloud in sight. Temps were warming
up too (over 70F).

Posted by Mike at 017.02:27 AM

March 21, 2003

Bay of Islands

We left Blenheim, flying first to Wellington (20 minute hop), then to
Auckland, then in to KeriKeri (Bay of Islands). Picked up our new
car..some kind of mini Ford Taurus, which finally broke the "rules" and
started to switch the wiper and turn-signal stems to the opposite side.
Not sure if its just a one-off design change, but up until now we had been
blessed that the left-hand drive cars had the driver cluster exacltly as
it was on the right side. Turned my wipers on by accident no less than
4 times over 15 miles. Argh.

Checked in to the Saltwater Lodge. It is a shining example of something
that was designed by people that had actually used hostels... SOOOOO
incredibly well thought out to function well for its intended audience... kudos
to them.

Spent the afternoon wandering the town, and sitting on the beach. Its a nice
beach, with better views that you'd have at a NC beach, but still no warm
water, and the sand is a bit finer/smaller which makes it stickier. No surfing
here, the water is too calm. At at Bistro 40 and had a really good meal,
then down to the bar in the hostel to listen to a live band doing covers of
American music for a bit, then to bed.

Sat morn spent on the beach, reading, and plan to do some kayaking around
the Bay, before heading down to Whangerei for the night, and diving tomorrow.

Alas the water is not all that warm... if they had warm water anywhere in
this country, it would be end of story, California would vacate and move
here, overrunning everything. So for their sake, I guess that is good :-)

All in all, I'd put this as one of the places that could be skipped easily enough
assuming you have have access to any decent beach at home. We found Mt.
Maunganui later in the trip and I'd just as soon go there instead.

Expecting internet access to suck for the next 2-3 days, will see what we
find. After diving, we have a 6-hour drive (split up hopefully) down towards
the Waitomo area for the black-water and glow-worm stuff.

Posted by Mike at 018.05:47 PM

March 24, 2003


Easy drive to Tutukaka and dropped our stuff at "Malibu Mal's". An ok place,
but nothing I'd strongly recommend vs trying other places instead.

Small area here.. mostly just a marina as the town. We _just_ caught the
local convenient store (in the next town over) to get some things before they
closed (7 pm)

Up and to the dive shop.... not before a small altercation btw the back
fender of the car and a fence... but 0-deductible, so not a big deal. (the
driver shall remain anonymous)...

Dive-Tutukak was a rather full-service dive shop. A little much of the PADI
"we'll think for ya" influence, but... They packed 11 of us on a 10m boat (a
little tight IMO, and no setting up gear until you arrived at the dive site), and
off we went. Seas were 1-2m swells with a large period (thankfully). About 1
hour our to the Poor Knights Reserve.

1st dive was ~ 60 feet on a pinnacle. Saw some eels, nudibranchs, and an
assortment of fish. Water was ~70F. It was John's first ocean dive, so
we spent some time to get bouyancy and such sorted out (nothing you
wouldn't expect to do on a 1st ocean dive). I've been using my own gear for
every dive since 1992, so I even felt likea pig-on-ice-skates using their
complete set of rented gear. Ended up using the divemasters regs, since
there was a HP seat leak on my rental set, and even the backup set had
a lead on the octopus hose. They only gave out neoprene socks too, not
full booties for use with the open heel fins... thought that was odd, and counter
productive (full booties give a lot more ankle support for the long fin blades)

Had some lunch (a whole garden on that sandwich), and then in for the 2nd
dive, close up to the island. Again, max depth ~60ft. John had a much better
dive (bouyancy was good, etc) and so we tooled around, seeing more eels, and
a few stingrays.

We had the divemaster along (who John overheard was an instructor) who
foolishly tried taking us into a small cave. I camped out on the bottom and
Kept an eye on the entrance, and tried catching John's sillouette against
her light (only one light for the 3 of us).. John enjoyed getting to see it,
but agreed when we were topside that she was nuts for having us go in
without our own lights. It was no bigger than a 10x10x10 room, but still
ya gotta be able to see to fix problems if they occur.

On the way back we had a small pod of dolphins swim along with us and saw
the spray some several whales out in the distance.

All in all, good dives (6.5 out of 10) (but nothing I don't think you can't
get from the Bahamas or Honduras). Not sure why Jacques Cousteau claimed
it was a "top-10" in the world location. Don't get me wrong, it was "good", just
not "great".

Back to dock, packed up and hit the road for Otorohanga. On the way we
started to hear a noise in the front-end of the car, so we called Hertz to
swap out the car (it had many things in it that didn't work anyway).

Got to Otorohanga around 10pm and hit the sack.

Posted by Mike at 019.06:37 PM

Lost World

Up early and over to Waitomo Adventures for the 7-hour Lost World Epic ($320 NZ). Kinda pricey, but VERY worth it.

6 of us (plus 2 guides), suited up in wetsuits, and abseiled down a 100m
rope into the "Lost World" (just you, your rope, and your harness). The climb down was cool... then we grabbed lunch and started our hike thru the cave.

A lot thru water, from puddles, to an occassional swim needed (over our head).
Several cool crawls thru tight muddy places (wash off in the next water pool),
and then we climbed up a water fall, and did a swimming/sunmerged shoot-thru
downstream under a rock.

We turned out the light several times and saw the 1000's of glowworms
(their butts glow blue). Pretty cool stuff.

Afterwards, they bus us back and did a BBQ for us (steaks, salad, etc).
We hung out there for quite a while with the others from our group. Decided
to go in 6-ways and buy the CD of all the pictures they took of us, and
I'll put them up on the web for everyone to download when we get back.
(kinda get tired of all the places that prohibit you from bringingyour own
camera so that they can try to sell you $20 photos of yourself, plus
all the pictures you miss out on that you would have taken).

Back to the hotel, slept, and then on to Rotorua. Found a B&B near the city
center, figured we catch up on email, and going to head out and see the Springs,

Posted by Mike at 020.06:42 PM

March 25, 2003


We made great time to Rotorua, and pitched our "tent" at Eaton Hall B&B.
Can't say I recommend the place tho (bugs and really not all that clean).
At the price ($80 for a twin, no ensuite) it should be possible to find much
better. The hostels were already sold of out twin rooms by the time we arrived.

Drove south of town to Waio-topa thermal reserves... really bizarre but cool
geo-thermal features., steam and mud bubbling everywhere. I must say, it
was a day that I am glad NOT to have a sensitive nose... much much sulfur in
the air (rotten eggs).

All kinds of colors in the sediment being brought up from in the earth, and
the water was dangerously hot to touch (I did not). Allegedly just below
boiling point (200F).

So we did the main walk there, and then headed back to the Waimangu Volcanic
Thermal reserves. Another 2 hour walk, but different features here, more
around an old volcano. A nice stream of 100F+ water running thru it.

Back to town for the Tamaki Maori dinner. Caught our bus to the village.
About an hour of traditional performance, and then dinner. It was very
enjoyable and the food was really good too. On the way back the bus
driver made us all sing songs from our respective countries, then proceeded
to get "stuck" in the rotary for 3 cycles (damn funny seeing a bus go round-and
round in a rotary like that)

Was really just "done" with Rotorua in the morning, and we had 36 hrs before our flight home,
so we headed off to Raglan (beach resort on the west coast) as a place to hang out
which would be sort of on the way back to Auckland.

Posted by Mike at 021.09:25 PM


So we stopped for gas on the way to Raglan (west coast beach resort town)
and the woman pumping our gas (its sorta full-service here), convinced us
to head to Mt Maunganui instead (east coast.. white sand vs. black sticky sand on
the west coast) and more non-beach things to do.

So mini u-turn and we headed off to our new destination.

(we sorta had an extra day of time, and no firm plans how to spend it, and several
questions to everyone had turned up little else to do o the North Island that was
within reasonable driving distance for us... so another vote for the South Island
having more to do)

Posted by Mike at 022.09:27 PM

March 26, 2003

Mt Maunganui

so instead of Raglan, here we are in Mt. Maunganui.. wow what a delightful
ocean-front town (13k ppl). A really nice shopping/eating district one block
off of the water, and Mt. M itself is right at the end of the small peninsula,
not sure how tall it is.

Decided to "splurge" and booked in at the Atrium... ($150NZ for a studio
appt type of thing... 2 bedrooms, fully kitchen, and den). LOL, it had a
washer/dryer, so we made good use of it. Tossed a load in and went out
to walk the trail around Mt M (2.9k loop). John jogged it twice, I walked/ran
it once (when CD player buffer ran out and it started to skip, I figured that
was nature's way of telling me to walk... sounds good to me...).

The weather finally decided to toy with us, an we got maybe 1.5 hours of
light to heavy rain. So we did some shopping, some laundry, and tried
to find something other than the endless CNN war coverage to watch on TV.

Got the guy at the Atrium to give us a late checkout, so we hope to get some
surfing in tomorrow morning, then pack up, clean (ourselves) up, and head for
Auckland around 1pm. We were strongly recommended to take the scenic route
(only 10-15 minutes longer, but the other is all flat farmland) up along the coast,
so that should be cool.

Ate dinner at "Astrolabe" on the end of the downtown shopping district. Great great

It was raining on our last morning, and the surfshop guys said the surf was no
good, so no surfing to end our trip. Spent the AM walking the town, and getting
ready to head up to Auckland.

All in all, a great little town to end our trip with.

Now we will see if we can scam the 1st class seats again for the flight to LAX
(fingers and toes crossed!).

Posted by Mike at 023.12:28 AM

March 27, 2003

Au revoir NZ

Ate bkfst and lunch at a bistro down near the Info center end of the
shopping strip... called Gusto I think "for mostly healthy eating" was their
slogan. Yum yum, really good food ($10 NZ for a great lunch)

Had a mostly easy drive up to the airport, but did hit a ~20 min delay
thru one construction zone on Hwy 2.

Our flight is slightly delayed (40 minutes), but we get Qantas Lounge access
for being business class. None of the 1st class sleeper seats on this plane
tho ;-(

Posted by Mike at 024.12:38 AM

International Business Class is the way to go

When its by using miles, its like monopoly money, right?

Well the difference from spending 65k miles and 105k miles... these
flights are packed full of ppl... which means long lines... not for us.
Priority this, express that... definitely the way to go. Paying for the
difference ($1800 vs. $7000) would have been painful, but earning
40k extra miles is definitely worth it.

The duty-free shopping seems like a waste.. same prices as at home,
and ya gotta lug the stuff over the next 3 flights.. no thanks.

Posted by Mike at 025.12:44 AM

March 28, 2003

Home at last

Coudn't score the 1st class seats on the way back, so it was "just" business
class seats. Not fully reclining, and nothing like the gizmos and gadgets
we had on the way over, but still much nicer than coach and I was able to
get maybe 5 hous of sleep, enough to get me essentially back on east coast

The return trip was a re-make of the OJ Simpson dashing-thru-the-airport commerical.

The Qantas flight was an hour late landing, putting us into Immigration and
Customs at 11:30, with me having a 1:09 flight out, and John having his at 12:30.

I made my flight as it was boarding, and suspect John missed his original connection. If we'd been coach I would have surely missed my flight too
(Qantas lets business class deplane first, and gets luggage back more quickly
too, which meant I was #4 thru Immigration/Customs, and not #460)

In Dallas, I had to go from one side of Terminal A to the _other_ side of Terminal C
(of course), so I again, just made that connection.

On the LAX->DFW flight tho, I was on a 777 in first class (no domestic business
class), and that was very nice, with a configuration just like the plane we had
on the way to New Zealand (fully reclining seats in your own little partitioned

Landed in Ral on schedule.

Posted by Mike at 026.08:30 PM

Closing thoughts

May update this as I think of other things....

- New Zealand is really a spectacular place (John compared it to a cross btw Alaska and Ireland)... as you can see from the pics (particular at QT, Milford, and Franz Joseph), quite amazing.

- The people (Kiwis) were all very nice and accomodating, offering advice on roads to take (shortcuts), and what to see and do.

- I see why everyone recommends the South Island more than the North. We were hard-pressed to find something else to fill our time on the NI when we finished some of the other things early. I think that would not have been a problem on the SI.

- B&Bs were not as prevalent as the B&Bs in Ireland, or the pensiones you find in Italy, and the quality varied.

- The roads were sometimes as narrow as Ireland, but you did not have the stone walls of the farm 3 inches from the road, so I thought driving was a lot easier. Also on the SI, there simply was not much traffic.

- The free maps from the Automobile Association (AA) are really good, and can be found at most of the "i" (Information) centers in each town.

- We found the "driving estimates" to usually be about 25% too high, but we were not making many stops, and tended to be at speed limit whenever possible (not over all that often). So most of our trips we estimated at 6 hours we did in around 4.5.

- Prices for manufactured goods were often double in NZ what they were in the US (for the same item, including the exchange rate). My $400 camera went for almost $700 (US) in NZ, and hiking shoes (and such) were close to $200.

- Prices for food/lodging were very reasonable. The way we figured it, you got your normal US meal for a US price but with your 1st glass of wine for "free". Our fnial night at the Atrium only ended up being $90US for 2 ppl, and it was a really nice place.

Posted by Mike at 027.09:05 PM


Flight... I used miles, so it was free. Quotes were ~$1800 for coach class.

Cash.. I took $400US worth of NZ money in cash. I charged what I could, and left the country with $1.85NZ left over, which I gave to unicef on the plane.

The exchange rate hovered between 1.7 and 1.8 NZ to $1US.

Credit card.. I ran up $1900US on my Mastercard. ($350 was for internal flights
on AirNZ). John found that Amex was accepted at maybe 2/3 of the places.

Lodging was easily had for $50NZ per person/night or less. Dorm beds were available easily for ~$25 tops (but we stayed away from the dorms)

We tended to eat pretty well at dinner (~$35NZ per meal) (and found some really good restaurants)

I owed John ~$650 to cover the Milford trip and the car rentals.

So lodging/food were roughly half of my CC bill. Most of the rest was all of the various activities (scuba, heli-hike, Lost World)... several of which were over $100 each.

So unless I missed something, my total cost was right at $2600 for 18 days on the ground in NZ, doing just about all the activities we could want or find. I'd say we did a medium to low-end upscale trip. (For a lower-cost trip, the "backpacker" infrastructure was very accessible.)

Posted by Mike at 028.09:19 PM