Monday, January 14, 2013

New Zealand Days 2 and 3

Day 2

On the morning of Day 2, our campervan was dropped off at our hotel. Until this point, we thought we had reserved an automatic transmission vehicle. Much to my disappointment (since I never learned to drive stick), the vehicle was a manual. What were we going to do!? I called the owner and attempted to get things straightened out. We ended up waiting around in Auckland, with the hopes that we could switch the van with another that was automatic, but that didn't work out. So our day got off to a rough start and we didn't leave Auckland until early afternoon. But let me just say, Allyson is incredible. Of course, she is incredible for a million reasons. However, the #1 reason on this trip was that she drove all 3,160 kilometers (1,963 miles) of our trip in a 3.2 meter (10.5 feet) tall campervan around the windy windy islands on the opposite side of the road and shifting with her left hand. How's that for incredible?!

The inside of our campervan "Toadie"

 Allyson getting used to the van

First stop was Hobbiton. We almost didn't make it in time for the last tour of the day, but I think we're both glad we made it. Mostly, it was important to me that the campervan situation didn't mess up our day. The tour starts at The Shire's Rest. You take a short bus ride and then get out and walk around The Shire. Before finishing up the tour, we enjoyed a beer (and a cider) in the Green Dragon (the bar in the Shire) and then took the bus back to where we started. 

Bilbo's House. The oak tree on top is fake. Peter Jackson needed it to be just like the book describes and there were no oak trees in the area. So they built the tree and attached thousands of fake leaves. At some point, the leaves changed color because of the strong sunlight and it was someone's job to paint the underside of all of the leaves (only the underside because that's all we (the viewers) could see.

The big tree is the "Party Tree." The field was where the big party was for Bilbo's birthday in The Fellowship of the Ring and Gandalf's dragon firework flies right over the field and beyond the tree. I know, I know...I promise this is the dorkiest moment of my blog post!

Entryway to the Green Dragon

We ended our day's adventures in Rotorua. The whole town smells awful. It is like the Yellowstone of New Zealand with geothermal attractions everywhere. Because we have been to Yellowstone, we instead used our time on Day 3 to enjoy the natural hot springs and the most incredible massage either one of us has ever experienced. 

Day 3
Another kind of crappy day of weather, but we tried to just enjoy it. We put our raincoats on and spent a couple hours in the morning walking around the Government Gardens and some trails that wound through some thermal areas along Lake Rotorua. We were basically just killing time before our appointments at Polynesian Spa (a World Top 10 Spa as voted by Conde Nast Traveler). The spa was amazing. We spent a little over an hour in the Lake Spa, which had four different pools at 36, 38, 40, and 42 degrees Celsius. It was a rainy morning, which made the pools feel even more incredible. And the Lake Spa overlooks Lake Rotorua, which I'm sure would've been more awesome if it was a sunny day. On the other hand, I had a much easier time getting completely relaxed with the mist and fog and cool air. 

We were nice and relaxed when we went in for our body polish and aix massage combos. These signature massages included a body scrub with Rotorua thermal mud polish, washed away with a warm water shower controlled by a massage therapist and rinsed over the body, finished off with a massage using organic coconut oil. Holy crap! This is not why we came to New Zealand, but it was definitely one of the most memorable experiences. And man, were we relaxed the rest of the day!

 Casual geyser next to a hotel

The original bath house

 The landscape was so weird and super creepy

 Starting at 36 and working our way up to 42

Outdoor shower of my dreams. Our house will have one of these one day!
After our massages, we grabbed a bite to eat at a great restaurant (kind of like a market too) called Capers. Allyson had a vegetarian lasagna and I had an interesting and delicious mix of gluten free salads.  Then we continued on our way to Tongariro National Park because Day 4 we planned to tackle Tongariro Crossing. 

 Cool barista mirror

Salad Variety Plate

We made shorts stops at Huka Falls and Lake Taupo. The clouds continued to loom over us, but it didn't rain too much for the remainder of the day. We arrived at Discovery Lodge, the closest lodge and campervan site to Tongariro Crossing, around 6:30pm. This was one of my favorite places that we stayed. Really quiet, great view of Mt Ngauruhoe (used as Mount Doom in LotR), and a beautiful sunset! Unfortunately, we were unaware that Mt Tongariro had erupted twice in the last six month, the second time being 3 weeks before we got there. We were not allowed to hike the whole crossing. I actually can't believe we were allowed to hike where we did! We were basically on Mt. Tongariro and I just read that scientists predicted another eruption within the few weeks following the last one. What if we had been up there! Anyway, you'll have to wait for the next post to read about our crazy Tongariro adventure!

Huka Falls

 Lake Taupo - Largest Lake on North Island

Sunset at Discovery Lodge

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