On our way from Brian’s place in Dunedin to his previous home of Kaikoura about 10 hours north, we stopped at the remarkable Mouraki boulders. On a random stretch of beach, right off the main road, these distinctly round and large boulders are found relatively clustered together. I did not understand the fuss until we walked onto the beach and saw them in the distance. They are huge and out of place and very round. There is apparently nothing like them anywhere else, and believe me when I tell you that being there leaves little doubt that aliens were involved! We only spent about 20 minutes there but it really made my day.
Kaikoura is mainly known for whale and dolphin watching so obviously that was on the top of our list. Unfortunately, the weather was not on our side and our whale watching cruise was cancelled due to wind. So, went to the seal colony where we got closer than ever to Kaikoura’s very relaxed seals, and we also sampled their famous crayfish. We tried to check out the night life, but as usual it was a bit weak – we managed to find the only place with live music and a pool table and met a couple other travelers but the music was awful and we barely made it past midnight. On a whim we had booked a whale watching charter flight for the next morning before we had to leave to catch our ferry back to the north island. The cost was the same, but it was more of a gamble because the cruises refund 80% of the fee if you don’t see any whales, but the flight company does not. However, it was our only chance because we had to drive 2 hours to catch the ferry and the cruise didn’t return until too late. Apparently, it is great to see them from above because you see much more of them (as opposed to just a tail), but sadly, no whales wanted to come out and play during the 40 minutes we were in the air. Thus, we left Kaikoura a bit a sad and disappointed. The good news is that it was an absolutely beautiful drive from Kaikoura to Picton after our failed attempt at seeing whales. Most of it was right along the coast and we reached the ferry with less than 5 minutes to spare!
Instead of staying in Wellington again after we crossed over, we decided to make some progress on getting farther north and drove to Palmerston North. It was a decent size college town with a young vibe and lots of cafes and coffee shops. We probably would have stayed longer if time wasn’t tight to get to Auckland (we booked a sailing certification course!!!) so we drove toward Taupo/Rotarua where we planned to spend 2 nights exploring the thermal area and possibly go sky diving. This area is known for the many lakes and all the geothermal activity. It is a little bit stinky of sulfur and a bit touristy, but we did finally find a motel that had free internet! We took a day trip to the Orakei Korako Cave and Thermal Park in The Hidden Valley because we had heard it was off the beaten track. On the way there we stopped to get pies and coffee to eat in the car. For those of you who don’t know, pies in NZ are savory pastries made of a flaky dough and filled with stuff like mince or steak and cheese (again good thing I started eating meat). So, Raj and I each had a mince pie in the car on our way to the place when we rounded a bend and found a car stopped in the middle of the road. It quickly became apparent that the reason the car was stopped was because there was a herd of cows taking up the road ahead as they were being to a new place. I had already devoured my pie, but poor Raj was only half way through because they are bit messy to eat while driving. Needless to say that Raj felt it was quite wrong to finish his mince meat pie as an entire herd of cows was 2 ft from our car. Anyway, Orakei Korako was pretty nice – it had geysers, boiling mud pools and a great cave and many other nice examples of a geothermal area with the exception of a hot pool. We particularly enjoyed watching the boiling mud 🙂
While in Rotarua we also decided to check out a Maori Culture show and dinner. Although we normally avoid such touristy displays, we had heard very good things about it and wanted to learn more about traditional Maori culture (the indigenous people of NZ). There were many to choose from and we again tried to choose one that seemed less popular in hopes that it would be more authentic. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the worst night in New Zealand! To begin with, they insisted that they pick us up on the company bus rather than allow us to drive ourselves because supposedly the “entertainment” began on the bus and they didn’t want us to miss out (we should have cancelled right then and there). To keep a dreadful story short and locked away in my deep dark scary place, let me just say that it was absolutely everything we feared it would be, complete with tourists singing their national anthems with a microphone on the way back to our hotels. The ONLY good thing was the buffet style traditional hangi meal the demonstration about how the food was cooked underground in the Polynesian way.
On our way to Auckland, we decided to take one day/night and drive through the beautiful Coramadel Peninsula. We continued to outrun incoming bad weather, had one of our best meals in NZ and saw more beautiful places, but we were also getting really excited about our sailing course and anxious to get to Auckland. We were supposed to have two days before hopping on our ship for the sailing certification. We took advantage of being in a city and got massages and manicures as well as seeing a movie for the first time in quite some time (Wolverine). We checked out the fantastic marinas, after all, Auckland is called the City of Sails, and saw the most spectacular yachts! We kept hearing that the weather was supposed to get bad, but we didn’t hear from our sailing instructor so we figured we’d be outrunning it. Unfortunately, as we were all packed up and about to check out of our hotel to go to the harbor, we got a message that she had to cancel our trip. We were crushed but also figured it wouldn’t be much of a vacation to be on the water in a cold yucky storm when we didn’t even know what we were doing. We regrouped and found a new hotel and settled into a very relaxing couple of days. By the end of the week we had seen three movies (including Star Trek on IMAX – Awesome) and treated ourselves to a spa day with facials, body scrubs and massages– gotta love strong exchange rates! Frustratingly, the weather was fine for the most part with a few rain showers coming through each day, but ultimately, nothing a girl from Seattle and a guy from London couldn’t have handled 😦 Oh well, can’t win them all…. but we are now wondering if we are destined to be sailors after all.