Kiwi Hospitality

Lonely Planet has proclaimed that Auckland is one of the ten best places in the world to visit in 2014. Although I concur with their choice, I would have moved Auckland to the number one spot. But then, Mike and I had something Lonely Planet didn’t– New Zealand’s best tour guides, Norman and Davina, which definitely influenced my rating.

Let the tour begin!

Let the tour begin!

It’s hard to believe that we spent only four days with these very gracious hosts, because we saw and did so much. It was all wonderful: breathtaking scenery, with beautiful beaches, but what made it extra special was the time we spent with their wonderful family, which gave us the opportunity to experience Kiwi culture and daily life.

This post is my way of saying thank you to Davina and Norman for a fantastic visit. I can’t capture ALL of the high points of our time together–there were just too many, so I’m limiting myself to 10 memories. Here they are, not in any particular order.

1. One Tree Hill

Auckland, Viewed from One Tree Hill

Auckland, Viewed from One Tree Hill

The Auckland area has more than 50 extinct volcanoes. This is a relatively young crater, a mere 500 years old.

You can go into this Volcanic Crater

You can go into this Volcanic Crater

2. The “Bach”
According to Wikipedia, the term originated from “bachelor pad”, but it has now come to mean a New Zealand summer home for family vacations. We stayed at our hosts’ family bach.

The bach

The bach

New Zealanders welcome drop ins, (or at least Davina, Norman and their friends do. I really shouldn’t generalize that ALL New Zealanders are like them, because they are rather special). Anyway, we got to see yet another bach, in Whitianga, right on the beach, when we popped in to visit their friends.

The view from the Bach living room

The view from the Bach living room

3. Whangamata
No only did we visit this lovely seaside resort, we also leaner how to pronounce its name. The Maori way sounds like this: Fong-ahh-mat-AHHH.

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Strolling along the beach

Strolling along the beach

I’ve never used a public toilet that had piped in music and recorded instructions for locking the door, including a warning that you had best be done within 10 minutes. I thought it might be a New Zealand thing, but no–so far, it has only been a Whangamata experience.

4. Farmers’ Markets
Had I known that I could get a haircut by the side of the road, I wouldn’t have been in such a rush to get a trim before we left.

Farmer's market,on the way to Whangamata

Farmer’s market,on the way to Whangamata

5. New Chums Beach
I don’t know if this is the most beautiful beach in New Zealand, because EVERY beach I’ve seen so far has been rather wonderful. I think we just TOLD ourselves that it was the most beautiful because we had to walk over rocks and through rain forest growth for about 30 minutes to get to it.

How much further????

How much further????

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It DID have a rather nice swinging rope, though.
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6. Saturday Night at “The Club”
In the USA, we don’t have anything quite like a New Zealand club. Take a casino, a restaurant, a pool hall, a sports bar, a cocktail lounge, a dance hall– mix it all together, but make it family friendly and voila, you’ve got yourself a New Zealand club. Best of all, members of one club can use any other club. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The club in Whangamata

The club in Whangamata

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7. Lost Spring Thermal Pools, Whitianga
No photos for this one. We sat in a natural hot spring surrounded by lush foliage and beautiful flowers. You’ll just have to take my word that it was quite glorious.

8. Waihi Picnic
We were only in Waihi a short time. Just long enough for us to have a great picnic lunch atop a hill, check out the gold mining operation, and for me to buy a Kiwi cap.

Trucks appeal to boys of all ages

Trucks appeal to boys of all ages

9. Karangahake Gorge
A bike path runs through this area. Biker chicks, take note!

Gorgeous Gorge

Gorgeous Gorge

New Zealand - Clean and green

New Zealand – Clean and green

10. Family, Friendship, Fun
Spending time with Norman and Davina’s family made our time before the start of our Road Scholar trip extra special.
I had a chance to see how “socialized medicine” works, when I accompanied Davina to Taylor’s visit to the dentist. The offices are located on school property, and there is no charge for the visit. Brig, clean offices, a short wait, at no cost. What’s not to like.

Davina and Taylor

Davina and Taylor

Pippa, explaining the rules of the game

Pippa, explaining the rules of the game

This is one creative little girl

This is one creative little girl

This is the "walking school bus"

This is the “walking school bus”

So what do you think…Auckland #1 spot?

New Zealand

Time to hit the road again! For years, Mike and I have wanted to visit New Zealand, but we knew that a twenty hour plane ride could only be justified by a loooong stay. So, visiting that wonderful corner of the world had to wait until my retirement. Although I had been able to get away for three weeks while working, SIX weeks didn’t seem do-able.

Mike and I were so lucky to meet Davina and Norman on a river cruise in 2008. Our fellow cruisers were were almost evenly divided into thirds, from the USA, Canada and Australia, with Davina and Norman being the sole Kiwis. It was during a presidential election year, which made dinner discussions VERY interesting.

I’m amazed at how well informed other citizens of Planet Earth are! Makes me want to listen to the BBC more frequently, so I don’t embarrass myself with my ignorance of events outside our borders. Of course, Ted Cruz has done a good job of making me embarrassed by what has happened INSIDE our borders!

And yes, there actually IS a reason for that digression. Mike and I will be staying with Davina and Norman in Auckland for several days before our Road Scholar trip commences. I’m excited about spending time with them again, and have been blown away by their gracious hospitality. Davina offered to pick us up at the airport at the ungodly hour of 6 AM! And she has planned several days of sightseeing for us.

Getting maps into WordPress is a multi step process, easier done from my computer than iPad, so I figured I’d get it completed before we head to the airport.
First a map of the ground we will be covering during our Road Scholar trip.

Our New Zealand Adventure

Our New Zealand Adventure

At the end of that trip, Mike heads back to the USA and I start a three week project with Global Volunteers in the Cook Islands. So, where ARE the Cook Islands, you ask?

The Cook Islands

The Cook Islands

Because I will be crossing the date line, I’ll be arriving before I leave. Given that I have always been calendar challenged, this will not be a problem for me.

If you look at a map of the world, the Cook Islands show up as fifteen tiny dots, so here’s a close up of “my” island.

My home for three weeks

My home for three weeks

I’ll be staying in Rarotonga, the largest of the islands, which has a population of around 9,000. That’s about twice as many people as my home town.

I found this description of Rarotonga on the internet:
“The island is one of the most beautiful in the South Pacific making it popular with around 90,000 visitors each year. The volcanic peaks and white sandy beaches with overhanging palm trees, inside a coral reef make Rarotonga a paradise island.
Pretty tough duty, wouldn’t you say?

So, over the coming weeks, Mike and I will be hanging out in gloriously beautiful places, and I will be doing my best to capture all that fantastic beauty for your viewing pleasure. Who knows…maybe a contest down the road?

Come on along! And feel free to comment, so I stay connected with everyone!

Grander than Grand

Magnificent!  Spectacular!  Those adjectives are far more accurate descriptions of the natural wonder that we call The Grand Canyon.   It is very difficult to capture in a photograph the enormity of this “hole in the ground”.

An early explorer, with the catchy name of James Christmas Ives, was unimpressed.  He dubbed it a “profitless locality”  and predicted  “the Colorado River, along the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.” Had cable news been around during his day, he might have had a brilliant career as a pundit. (I leave it to you to decide which station would hire him).

After meeting at the Scottsdale Cottonwoods Resort in Scottsdale, our group of 35 headed off to the Hualapai Lodge in Peach Springs via Sedona and Flagstaff.   Our hotel is on the reservation, right by the railroad tracks.  Somehow that image didn’t make it into the hotel’s decorative window.IMG_0253It occurred to me that the trains’ engineers might have been a little annoyed that they were working while others were sleeping.  That’s the only explanation I can come up with for blasting the horn multiple times as they approached the town.  And yes, there were many, many trains–about 1 every 15 minutes. Made me feel really sorry for the people who live in the Peach Springs.

The big attractions for the western Canyon were the helicopter rides down to the canyon’s bottom, river rafting to Lake Mead on the “snout rigs”, and the Sky Walk.

First the Sky Walk.  It wasn’t quite what I had envisioned.  We didn’t go out on it, but we saw it from the top of the canyon,

View of the Sky Walk from the rim

View of the Sky Walk from the rim

then later from our river raft.  It’s that silver oval, jutting out from the top of the photo. What do you think? Worth an additional $70?

View of the Sky Walk from the Colorado River

View of the Sky Walk from the Colorado River

We didn’t think so either.

Back to the western canyon–here’s the view from the rim–very subdued colors, with a sediment laden river (that very brown ribbon) winding along the bottom. The Colorado River is quite low because of 12 years worth of droughts and the additional water needs of the area’s growing population.
P1000247Mike and I were in the last group of chopper riders, so we had time to become “one” with the landscape and to take pictures of our new friends as they climbed aboard.

The flat Colorado Plateau gave no hint of what was close by

The flat Colorado Plateau gave no hint of what was close by

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I was lucky enough to get a front seat.IMG_0650

Prior to this trip, we had toyed with the idea of rafting and camping through the canyon. Our ride on the snout rig absolutely settled that issue!
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I’ll let you in on a little secret. Those rigs are not the most comfortable way to travel. And if you are seated in the front, you are guaranteed to get wet, even when there are no rapids. Guess what–the water is COLD.

Our land transportation, on the other hand, was luxurious. Good thing, because we traveled from one end of the canyon to the other:  from Lake Mead to Lake Powell, logging many hours on that bus.P1010290
Our next stop was the one most visited by tourists–the south rim. The advantage to going a little later in the season was that the park was not crowded. Fortunately, we didn’t go TOO late. Had we waited another week, we would have found the park closed, thanks to our fine congressmen. But that’s another story.

There are so many possible captions for this next photo. “Death Wish”, “Just one more step back, honey”,  “Did you send the check to the insurance company?”…

No, they were not with OUR group!

No, they were not with OUR group!

For the more adventurous, the South Rim offers the opportunity to hike (or ride) along Bright Angel Trail.
P1010058Dinner at El Tovar was not part of our tour package, but we decided to forgo the Maswick Cafeteria and enjoy that beautiful setting.

Mike and Augusta on the porch at El Tovar

Mike and Augusta on the porch at El Tovar

The next morning, while my two favorite traveling companions caught up on their beauty sleep, I returned to the edge of the rim to catch the sunrise.

P1010043I had the view pretty much to myself.

P1010023Our last leg of the journey was to Glen Canyon where we enjoyed another raft trip and a tour of the dam.

View of the dam from the river

View of the dam from the river

If you look closely at the next photo, you will see our rafts on the left hand side of the river. We get there via a two mile tunnel carved through the rock.

View of river from the dam

View of river from the dam

Drew, our fantastic river guide, kept us informed and entertained, as he guided us down the river. A former Marine and lawyer, he chooses to spend his days piloting rafts on the river, and we all benefited greatly from that decision.
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Drew explained the significance of the petroglyphs, including the “modern” one. Can you make out the word “Trent” carved into the rock? it seems Trent just had to leave his mark, and in doing so, he also contributed many dollars and hours of community service for defacing a historical site. Yep, he got caught.

Petroglyphs

Petroglyphs

Some people never learn. Once again, I sat in the front. Once again, I got SOAKED from head to toe.
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We spent our final night in Marble Canyon.

Here it is--the town of Marble Canyon

Here it is–the town of Marble Canyon

The best part about being in such a remote area is the skies are magnificently dark. We were lucky enough to have a professional astronomer with us–Mike gave us a wonderful impromptu lecture on the heavens.  It was a great finale to a fantastic trip!P1010353